Let me just say that I am often schooled by my students. Sometimes it is something simple like getting whupped in a game of chess. My little friend Jackson can do that fairly regularly. I usually use the lame excuse of trying to keep an eye on the entire classroom while he gets to devote all of his concentration on the game. Yeah, right.
Sometimes it is our student teacher who says just the right thing, makes the perfect connection or gently corrects a miscue on my part. I appreciate it. The other day she pointed me in the direction of a friend who needed face time after school to work through some problems. It was the best advice I’d gotten from someone - far less than half my age – in a long time.
There are times when I plunge through my school days without slowing down as much as I should, without putting myself into the shoes of these little ones I am blessed to teach. Not often, but it does happen.
Last week there was considerable fussing about pencils at our work tables. Each table has a container, which I try to keep filled with sharpened pencils. The kids bring in a bunch of pencils with their school supplies at the beginning of the year and I keep them all in the supply closet. As needed I break them out and sharpen them up and divide them among the pencil cups. It seems a little socialist. You bring them in, we put them out for all to share. Makes sense.
A few days ago we were in writing workshop and I was pointing out that some tables seem to end up with all the pencils while others have empty pencil cups. All pencils are everybody’s pencils. If anyone needs a pencil they may get one from any container and we shouldn’t be so possessive and blah, blah, blah… This had become a source of conflict.
During my diatribe, while about half of the class was thinking about something else entirely, I’m sure, one of my little ones was going through the pencils at her table, pulling an eraser from one pencil, putting it on another. Obviously, she wasn’t listening to me at all.
I reached down and grabbed it from her, annoyed that she wasn’t listening and ignoring my impassioned plea about just using the pencil in front of you (and blah, blah, blah). She looked up at me with hurt eyes. We went on to workshop and she picked up a random pencil. She went on to write and never said anything to me about it.
I went back to my own writer’s notebook and the image of her pretty face was still in my mind. It wasn’t a big deal, I just grabbed the pencil out of her hand so she would listen to me. It wasn’t a violent snatch, just an irritated one. She knows I love her. I was just getting her attention. But there was a little hurt in her eyes and I couldn’t get that image out of my mind.
Walking near her table and sitting on the floor I waited until she looked at me. I motioned for her to sit by me. The others were pretty deep into their writing. Mr. Santana was playing lovely instrumentals on the stereo (Hey, if we don’t teach these kids about Santana then who will?).
She sat down next to me with a “what’s up?” expression on her face.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I shouldn’t have snatched that pencil out of your hands."
“No, it’s not OK. I blew my cool over something small and I took it out on you. That was a little mean of me. You didn’t deserve it.” She gave me the sweetest look.
“No, it’s really OK,” she said. She reached over and hugged me. Then we looked each other in the eye. It was just a little moment but a lot passed through in that short time. She sort of just nodded and then got up and went back to her writing.
I felt like crap and exhilarated simultaneously. This beautiful child taught me a lesson like no one else could. She could have rubbed it in, become all sad and self-righteous and hurt. She could have given me ice. Maybe I deserved some. But she gave me forgiveness. I was the bonehead and she was the mature one.
And I sat there watching her return to her seat thinking about how wonderful this job is. And how complex. And how gratifying. And how so much of who I am is tied up with this wonderful group of people. And how I am a better person for being in the company of children.
I am also left wondering about how many times I leave a grouchy word or an unnecessary cross look dangling without a proper explanation or, yes, even an apology. That is not to say that I shouldn’t be firm now and then. It would be a mess without someone deliberate in charge. That’s what I do and what I have been doing for a long time. But every once in a while I am reminded to have a lighter touch, to follow the rules that we worked so hard to negotiate at the beginning of the year. To treat others the way I would like to be treated.
Rules for Living and Learning Together
Second Grade Class 2010-2011
*Be kind and gentle.
*Always try to do your best. Be responsible.
*Apologize when you make mistakes. Be forgiving.
*Follow your conscience.
Treat others the way you want to be treated.